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A STORY ABOUT A HEAL MAN                                                                          45
and collected their trophies, the partisans had gone long
ago—indeed, what was the use of their staying in this
deserted wilderness?—but he kept on calling, hoping for
a miracle, hoping that the bearded men that he had heard
so much about would suddenly emerge from the bushes,
pick him up and take him to a place where he could rest
for a day, even for an hour without having to bother
about anything or striving to get anywhere.
Only the forest answered with its reverberating,
vibrating echo. But suddenly, above the deep and
melodious humming of the pines he heard—or thought
he heard, considering the tenseness with which he
listened—dull and rapid thuds, now quite distinct, and
now faint and confused. He started up as though a distant
friendly call had reached him in this wilderness. He could
not believe his ears, and sat for a long time listening
intently with outstretched neck.
No! He was not mistaken! A moist wind blew from
the east and carried to him the distant sounds of artillery
fire; and this fire was not slow and sporadic like the
sounds he had heard during the past months when the
combatants, having entrenched and fortified themselves
on firm defence lines, listlessly exchanged shots to harass
each other. This firing was rapid and intense, sounding
as if somebody were unloading cobble-stones, or drum-
ming his fists on the bottom of an upturned oak barrel.
Of course! It was a fierce artillery duel. Judging by the
sounds, the front line must be about ten kilometres away
and something serious was happening there, somebody
was launching an attack, and somebody was putting up a
desperate defence. Tears of joy rolled down Alexei's
He kept his eyes turned to the east. True, at the spot
he was, the road turned abruptly in the opposite direc-
tion and a snowy carpet lay in front of him; but it was
from the east that he heard the inviting sounds; it was
in that direction that the dark tracks of the partisans were
leading; it was somewhere in the forest over there that
these brave men of the forest lived.
And Alexei mumbled: "Never mind, it's all right, com-
rades, everything will be all right." He vigorously threw
his staff forward, rested his chin on it and putting all the